Abbado on French orchestras

Daniel Harding walked out of a production of Cosi fan tutte at the Paris Opera last autumn, after one rehearsal, appalled by the orchestra's arrogance. 'Now you know why the French gave me the Legion d'Honneur,' Claudio Abbado (left) told him later, 'I never conducted a French orchestra!'

The cheesy headline 'Conducting his life with brio' does not bode well, and the quote above is just about the most illuminating comment in a not very illuminating full page profile of Daniel Harding in today's Observer which draws too heavily on press releases and anecdotes. I have been an admirer of the 32 year old Harding since hearing his revelatory 1999 CD of Beethoven Overtures recorded with the Bremen Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, and tonight (July 30) he conducts a gala concert in Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus, with a roster of top-class singers, including Rene Pape, Anna Netrebko and Thomas Hampson. But he (or his agent, the ubiquitous Askonas Holt) should remember that, thanks to Nigel Kennedy, name dropping your favourite football (soccer) team is now a very risky way for a serious musician to establish street cred.

The credibility of the article is not helped by the fact that, as French reader Antoine Leboyer points out in the first comment below, Observer journalist Michael Henderson hasn't checked his facts. Abbado has in fact conducted several French orchestras including l''Orchestre de Paris/Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française and at the Paris Opera. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

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Pliable said…
Antoine Leboyer has emailed me with the following astute comment:

Thanks for pointing out the Observer article on Harding.

The article expresses some sound opinions: Harding is indeed contreversial and French Orchestras dramatically lack discipline (I live in Paris, I am a reviewer at and try to avoid them ...).

One thing though suprised me which is that they quote Abbado saying that he never conducted any French Orchestras. Fact is that he conducted Simon Boccanegra at the Paris Opera in 78 (I do remember this, it was my first night at the Opera and an unforgetable one), and did in between a concert with the Paris Orchestra (Schubert 8 and prokovief Alexander Newsky) at the invitation of Daniel Barenboim who was the Chief conductor at the time. He expressed understandable unhapiness at rehearsing with some players and conducting others in the evening. He returned to conduct the Orchestre de Paris the next year with a Brahms program (1st Piano Concerto with Brendel and 1st Symphony). I also remember that Isaac Stern did a full month with the French National Radio Orchestra, at the time Maazel was chief conductor. The last program was to have been conducted by Ozawa who was a regular and a favorite of this orchestra. Ozawa fell ill and Abbado took over for a full Beethoven evening: Romances, concerto and 7 th Symphony.

Also, it is worth noting that Abbado has regularly included Paris on his tours with the ECYO, CEO and Mahler Youth Orchestra and has done Brahms - Beethoven - Mahler cycles with the LSO, VPO and Berlin Phil.

Maybe Abbado forgot about these concerts. Maybe the journalist misquoted him. What is certainly worrying is that the journalist did not cross-checked his sources. Music critics are supposed to be only Freelancers so they may not have the same code of ethics as regular employees. This is sadly not the first nor last time that I read in a proeminent newspaper something which has not been cross-checked, which is wrong and ultimately confuses audiences.

Thanks for your blog which I find always very interesting.

Pliable - is a very useful source, access it via this link.

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